In an alternative universe, Michael Bay might be one of those directors whom Cahiers du Cinema might worship. He is, after all, a walking definition of the auteur theory, the notion that the director is the defining author of a film. Say what you will about Bay -- and believe you, we have -- but you cannot say his films do not bear his particular Michael Bay stamp in every frame. Michael Bay makes films in a way that no one else makes films. You might think it is a horrible (horrible!), awful, borderline criminal way to make films, but it is uniquely his way. And, obviously, audiences are responding. It is difficult to remember, now that Bay is done with them, that the Transformers just used to be some silly toy franchise from 30 years ago, that the whole notion of a "Transformers" series of movies was taken about as seriously as a movie of "Battleship," or "Ouija" is right now. More than $2 billion worldwide later, no one's thinks it's dumb to make a "Transformers" movie anymore.
Critics have always hated his films -- though we did enjoy the first "Bad Boys" -- but of course, Bay has always been a few steps ahead of the nerds. As detailed in a (rare) intellectual defense by Bryan Curtis in (of course) Slate six years ago, Bay went to Wesleyan, whose film school has produced Joss Whedon and Miguel Arteta and has a famously terrific film archive. While dorks like Whedon and his classmates were inside watching old Eisenstein films, Bay was out partying with his Psi Upsilon frat buddies. (Bay decided to become a filmmaker after filing papers on the set of "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" at the age of 15. Predictably, he thought the movie was going to be terrible.) Bay now seems the walking embodiment of the jock fraternity mindset, and Curtis writes about how it has always been that way.
Bay's fealty to the Greek aesthetic made him something of a curiosity at Wesleyan. While his classmates angsted over mannered senior projects, Bay submitted a film about a very good-looking guy driving very fast in his yellow Porsche. The movie's exuberant texture, says [his professor], was recognizably that of a "Michael Bay film."
This is to say: Michael Bay has had smart film nerds telling him he's a terrible director and that he is ruining the art film since college. The more you criticize him, the stronger he becomes. Which is why he'll never go away, and why he'll dominate American cinema long after he's gone. After all, there's surely some kid in college somewhere, today, who looks at Bay and thinks, "you know ... that's how you get the girl." Sad thing is, he'll be right.